Camellias are the state flower of Alabama and known as Southern landscape flowers, although new hybrids can be grown as far north as USDA planting zone 6b. They are natives of Asia and were first introduced into the United States in 1786 in Charleston, South Carolina. Camellias come in many different shapes and colors and there are thousands of varieties to choose from. The evergreen shrubs are used for screens, hedges and background plantings; they can also be used as a single accent plant. Care of a camellia is minimal, like most evergreen shrubs.
Spread a 4-inch-thick layer of mulch, such as shredded pine bark, under the canopy of the plants immediately after planting. Add more each spring and fall, as the mulch decomposes. Camellias have shallow roots and the mulch will keep them cooler and keep weeds from growing and competing for water and nutrition.
Water the shrubs well immediately after planting. Water camellias to keep the soil moist, but never soggy for the first growing season. Regular irrigation is important but how often will depend on the variety, rainfall and type of soil you have. The sandier the soil, the more water the plants will need.
Apply as special camellia fertilizer or a 12-4-8 fertilizer to the plants in early spring before growth starts, again after first growth flush, mid-summer and early winter. Do not fertilize the first year after planting if you amended the soil with organic compost or manures, but begin the next spring. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for how much to according to the size and age of your camellias.
Apply a micronutrient foliar spray in the early fall if the leaves are showing signs of distress. They may turn yellow or brown when all other needs are being met. Follow manufacturer’s directions on how much to apply.
Spread a 2-inch layer of compost over the mulch in the late summer to early fall and water to leach it into the soil. This will provide a boost of nutrition to the camellia as it starts to produce flowers.
Cut off dead or damaged branches as soon as you notice them. Cut off straggly or leggy branches that look out of place in the late winter when flowering is finished. Trimming the camellia to shape it is also done best in the later winter.